Caricom meeting: The sky is not falling

Caricom meeting: The sky is not falling

Thursday, February 20, 2020

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In an ideal world, all prime ministers of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) would be in Bridgetown for their 31st Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government. But we do live in a real world and they are not all there.

The absence of Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness must of course raise questions, given Jamaica's geopolitical importance to the regional bloc. But that absence can't be seen, without more, as an adversarial move intended to signal a chilling of relations.

Mr Holness says he has pressing national matters, including preparations for the upcoming budget debates. It would not be the first or the last time that such matters detain a leader of government at home. And the sky is certainly not falling down over his absence from Barbados.

Some are viewing his decision to stay away as his refusal to deliberately walk into the lion's den of angry leaders who are in Bridgetown with more than the usual agenda.

The fretting about the Jamaican leader's absence, and the refusal to take his explanation at face value, is clearly related to the timing, because the recent contretemps regarding the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not yet completely simmered.

That visit to Jamaica by Mr Pompeo was criticised by the Caricom Chairman and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley and a handful of other leaders as an attempt to divide Caricom, while Mr Holness explained it was a normal bilateral meeting between two friendly countries.

The suspicions about Jamaica's motives as being nationalistic persist and nerves are still raw. As we say in Jamaica, some of the Caricom heads are just being 'jumpy'. But we believe in this space that too will pass.

The current tension also seems to suggest that the insecurity in the relations between Caricom states is as alive as ever, ready to explode at a moment's notice. That, we suggest, is the elephant in the room.

Perhaps now is a good time to revisit the Bruce Golding Report on relations between Jamaica and Caricom/Cariforum, which was tabled in Parliament in April 2017. Eight months of work and money not disclosed have gone, only for the report to join the ever-expanding graveyard of expert studies.

Rather than stay there fuming over Mr Holness's absence from their meeting, the Caricom leaders are better off discussing the 33 salient recommendations made by the 17-member Golding Commission to enhance and advance the effectiveness of the regional grouping.

The Golding Report upheld the value of regional integration as relevant and useful and, perhaps, “even more urgent today than it was at Caricom's inception” in 1973. But it was spot on in highlighting the limited progress on many of the commitments signed on to by member states.

Jamaica is sensible and practical enough to understand that the country is better off with Caricom than without it. Indeed, as Golding reported, many of the deficiencies between us and other Caricom states have more to do with Jamaica than anyone else.

Indeed, Canada has just announced it wants an annual meeting with Caricom leaders to strengthen its relationship with the 15-member regional integration grouping. Why would Jamaica not want to be part of that?

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